Shaping Molten Metal with Tamsie Ringler
Tamsie Ringler’s relationship with Franconia Sculpture Park goes back to its humble beginnings in 1996, when a small group of artists including the current Artistic Director, John Hock, got together to create a new venue for outdoor sculpture in Minnesota, in an idyllic pastoral setting near Taylor’s Falls, along the St. Croix River.
Ringler had been a sculptor since her undergraduate education in the art department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the late '80s, where she was inspired to create three-dimensionally by professor George Cramer. She participated in her first iron pour at Franconia in the summer of 1997, and she was immediately fascinated by the process.
"There's something incredibly powerful about a material in a state of transformation - like a pregnancy. Iron is in us, right? We couldn't live without iron in our bloodstream. It fixes the oxygen and allows it to travel through our bodies. Without rust, we wouldn't be alive. Which is funny, because everybody hates rust."
Though she and her husband lived in Portland from 1998 to 2008, Ringler came back to Franconia every summer as an active participant in their artists’ residency programs and iron pours. In 2009, they moved back to Minneapolis, Ringler received a Jerome Fellowship, and she took on the responsibilities of Lead Artist for the annual Community/ Collaboration iron pour that year, as well as becoming a member of the Board of Directors at Franconia.
Franconia fills an important role in the sculpture community in Minnesota and beyond, for students, emerging and established artists, with diverse programs and resources supporting a public studio and exhibition space. The annual iron pour is a resource-intensive event, both in terms of the facilities, equipment and materials, and also the experience and expertise of the people involved, to make sure everything goes smoothly and safely.
Ringler has seen the impact that this type of art-making experience has had on her students firsthand. These events give them an opportunity to interact with and learn from both local and world-renowned artists, in international exchanges.
I think a lot of students are looking for a feeling of belonging and a sense of community, and they’re drawn to the communal aspect of metalcasting, It's not about making one artist's work, it's about the group effort, and you really feel that. At these iron pour events, students see people who are at the top, who are the main speakers and leaders at international iron casting conferences - and the steps toward becoming this person are right there, it's not exclusive.
Ringler has been a full-time, Term Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota for the last three years, and she has been in charge of the Foundry program since Professor Emeritus Wayne Potratz retired. She received recognition for her work with metal in the form of a McKnight Fellowship in 2017, and there are no signs of her slowing down. Her recent work explores the energy of landscape through mold-making and casting, and she has an ambitious project in mind that involves casting every mammal on earth – some 5600 species – as part of a broad conservation effort.
She has a lot on her shoulders, as an only parent, working artist, and a professor, stewarding the Foundry program at the University of Minnesota and remaining deeply invested and involved at Franconia Sculpture Park as well, and her contributions of energy, care and expertise are more vital and necessary now than ever.
A lot of people are attracted to the fire aspect of the pour, but for me it's more of the transformation of spirit that I see with students who are involved with the process, overcoming their fear, gaining a skill that they feel they can understand. The computer can take away our feeling of accomplishment, because it's so removed, we feel like the computer is doing the work instead of us. Some people feel like computers can do better sculpture than they can, prettier, cleaner - so I think people really respond to how visceral and immediate metalcasting can be, the danger... I guess I do, as well.